To many anglers, one of the most rewarding aspects of fishing is coming home with a cooler full of fresh, flavorful fish ready to enjoy with friends or family.
For many, however, that distinct fishy flavor can be off-putting and even downright offensive.
In this article, I’m going to explain why some fish taste much more fishy than others, and recommend a few delicious and mild fish that taste like chicken, that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy.
Table of Contents
- First Off, What Does it Mean to Taste Like Chicken?
- Go For The Mild Rated Fish
- Why Do Fish Taste Fishy?
- Don’t Overlook Freshwater Fish
- It’s All In the Prep Work
First Off, What Does it Mean to Taste Like Chicken?
In short, the best part of chicken’s “flavor” may actually be its lack of flavor. Many other meats have more distinctive notes to their taste, and most consumers enjoy the flavors of some meats and dislike others.
Chicken is famously lacking in any notes at all beyond a savory meaty taste, resulting in an almost universally enjoyed mild flavor.
Fish is made up of mainly white meat just like chicken, which is a good thing because dark meat tends to collect more distinct flavors as an animal lives and grows. Poultry and fish already share a key similarity that should make finding a flavor match easier!
Go For The Mild Rated Fish
‘Mild’ is a word often thrown around to describe the overall taste and texture of fish. Definitions vary depending on the source, but basically, a mild fish can be described as subtle, and not overpowering.
Mild fishy are not too salty, or too oily. They’re typically semi-firm white meat, medium-texture fish that cook well without overbearing flavors or textures.
And that’s why mild fish are great for people who want a fish that tastes like chicken. After all, chicken is pretty mild, right?
Here are a few fish with very mild flavors that taste like chicken:
- Pacific Cod
- Black Sea Bass
- Black Crappie
Of course, the choice of fish is only half of the equation. How you cook the fish, and with what type of seasonings will also play a big role in taste and flavor.
If you’re looking for fish to taste like chicken, my recommendation is to keep it simple. Baked, grilled, or lightly fried are the best options. Season the fish with common blends like lemon pepper, or BBQ…season it like you would chicken!
Why Do Fish Taste Fishy?
If the secret to chicken’s appeal is its lack of a strong flavor, perhaps it could be wise to see what makes fish so, well… fishy. The answer, as it turns out, is a chemical compound called trimethylamine oxide (TMAO).
This substance is found in nearly all seafood, and serves to protect animal proteins from the high pressures that come with living underwater.
It is odorless when the organism is alive, but once it dies it will quickly begin to decompose into trimethylamine (TMA).
TMA is the main source of that “fishy” smell and tastes that so many people have come to despise.
Avoid Oily Fish
Some fish have a higher oil content than others, and this is often perceived as a fishy or strong taste. Avoid dark oily fish like mackerel, tuna, bluefish, salmon, and swordfish.
While these fish are perfectly fine to eat and highly desired, they are the least likely to taste like chicken!
Other Fishy Factors
The freshness of fish, and how it is handled or processed can also lead to unpleasant ‘fishy smells’ and taste.
Ideally, seafood should be eaten fresh. And if it cannot be eaten fresh, it should be quickly processed in a clean environment, rinsed free of any contaminants, and flash frozen.
Leaving your fish in the sun for hours, or out on the counter can lead to foul tastes and bitter smells.
Don’t Overlook Freshwater Fish
Most fish, and seafood sold in local markets and grocery stores are saltwater fish.
But what about wild-caught freshwater fish?
Their TMAO levels are generally the lowest you can get, as saltwater environments and the farming process both tend to increase TMAO levels in fish.
Two of the most commonly enjoyed species of freshwater fish in North America are trout and walleye, which are prized for their mild flesh. If your buying your own, seek out fresh ‘wild caught‘ fish, not farm raised.
Other species to be on the lookout for include yellow perch and small species of catfish. If you’re fishing for your own freshwater fare, panfish such as bluegill and crappie are also wonderful choices, even if stores carry them less often!
It’s All In the Prep Work
Of course, all fish will still have some TMAO within, and it will decay into TMA all the same.
Many people don’t mind it at levels this low, but more sensitive palates may still taste the fishiness.
Luckily, there are steps you can take both in the kitchen and on the boat to remove TMA and other foul compounds from your fish, or even prevent them from forming in the first place!
Soak Out The Fishy Flavor
The easiest thing to do to remove the fishy taste is to soak your filets in milk for about 20 minutes prior to cooking.
The protein casein, found in milk, can actually bind to TMA and remove it from the surface of the meat, reducing fishy smells and tastes! Rinse your fish after soaking to remove the leftover milk clinging to its surface, taking the TMA with it.
Additionally, make sure you’re buying flash-frozen fish when you purchase it from the store! Fish that has been frozen more slowly will have visible ice crystals- this is the stuff to avoid.
These filets likely spent more time above freezing, giving bacteria more time to break the odorless TMAO down into TMA.
Bleed Your Fish (If Caught In The Wild)
Finally, if you’re cooking your own catch, make sure to properly bleed your fish as soon as they’re out of the water.
Fish blood contains many neurotransmitters, cellular waste products, and other compounds that can taste muddy or metallic. Skipping the bleeding step allows all of those dirty flavors to soak straight into your filets from the blood vessels in the fish.
There are many bleeding methods to follow, complete with online guides and special kits, such as the famous Japanese Ike Jime method. But the gist is that a mild chicken-ey flavor can be achieved in nearly any species with the right preparation!
The factors that give each animal its taste vary wildly, but the wonderful thing about fish is that much of its additional flavor can be removed from the meat.
If you want the best possible taste from the start, find yourself some wild-caught freshwater trout, walleye, yellow perch, or panfish.
But the preparation is doing far more work than the meat selection. If proper care is taken from getting a bite to taking a bite, almost any fish can “taste like chicken!”
So tight lines, and bon appétit- now you have the skills to convert any nonbeliever into a seafood lover.
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Growing up in Florida, I’ve been surrounded by saltwater my entire life…and I love sharing my passion with others.
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